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Skill development

The 3 soft skills allowing you to identify learning potential

eye 2983 Published on 21 Sep. 2021
tag ##SkillDevelopment

A high IQ equals high learning potential? To a certain extent, yes, since our reasoning abilities can have a direct impact on our learning abilities. It is not however the only element at stake here. Other factors also come into play, including the much talked-of ‘soft skills’. Let’s take a look at those directly related to learning potential.

Three soft skills for identifying learning potential

Soft skills, the socio-emotional abilities conducive to personal and professional success, can be divided into two categories: interpersonal and intrapersonal. All things relational, social, and communicational fall under the interpersonal realm. We’ll pass over that aspect for now. Learning potential forms part of the intrapersonal domain i.e., it is generated from within, 
and it hinges on the individual’s self-awareness. Within this category, three soft skills are in particularly high demand: self-motivation, self-confidence, and adaptability.


These two words are truly steeped in meaning: ‘self’, meaning to do things on your own without having to continually enlist the help of others; and ‘motivation’, the driving force supplying the energy needed to reach your goals. When combined, ‘self’ and ‘motivation’ give people independence within learning situations by imbuing them with a sense of personal responsibility. In this way, they can set realistic goals for themselves and work towards achieving them at their own pace.

Self-motivation is knowing why you are doing something and keeping this objective at the forefront of your mind, allowing you to stay the course to success. It means finding meaning and significance in your projects. It is the way that self-driven people steer clear of procrastination while also knowing how to give their projects direction and momentum to ensure everything runs smoothly. That said, effort and perseverance are also often needed throughout your learning journey.

Every milestone reached should be a chance for a well-deserved pat on the back, since self-motivated people are fuelled by praise rather than criticism. They are aware however that any learning journey is likely to be punctuated by obstacles and challenging moments. Far from demotivating them, not being the sort to give up easily, they react by mustering up their energy and resources to overcome said difficulties. Whether big or small, getting over these hurdles makes them all the more satisfied to have accomplished what they set out to do.

Self confidence 

This is the second skill that’s central to learning potential. This feeling of self-assurance opens the door to a world of possibilities for those fortunate enough to experience it. Self-confidence means having faith in your skills and feeling capable of accomplishing new things. It also means raising the bar for your personal goals, safe in the knowledge that you will be able to reach or even surpass them, plus an immense sense of pride to top it off, a feeling characteristic of those blessed with self-confidence. Having confidence in yourself means having a great deal of freedom to choose who you are and how you do things, since it entails a completely liberated state of mind. It also allows people to make choices for themselves, without needing outside approval, since they have faith in their decisions and this inner strength is enough to spur them to action.

Unlike those who are riddled with self-doubt, fully dependent on the opinions of others and paralysed by the fear of not being good enough, people who have confidence in themselves are action-orientated, ever ready to take on new challenges, to learn and evolve, being certain of their ability to succeed.

In a learning context, self-confidence comes into play on a number of different levels, whether it be deciding on a course to take, embarking on a training programme, testing out new approaches, being evaluated in an exam, putting new knowledge into practice for the first time, developing professionally or opting for a complete change of direction. It enables people to have autonomy when making decisions, plus the self-assurance to roll out the best course of action for success, since they know how to seek out the appropriate resources. And if things don’t work out as planned, at least they gave it their all, a great feat in and of itself!


Adaptability is the capability to adjust the way you are, the way you think, and the way you act, in order to be more in tune with your environment. It means being outward-looking, being receptive to what is happening around you to fully grasp the context, the content, and the nuances of a given situation, and to react accordingly.

In learning situations, adaptable people demonstrate an impressive level of open-mindedness and willingness to consider new ideas and working methods. This ability, twinned with their flexibility, allows them to be receptive to new material, to assimilate it more easily and to link it to existing material. They are also more inclined to reconsider what they already know, always ready to expand their knowledge base.

Beyond the acquisition of knowledge, adaptability is about putting this knowledge into practice. Being able to step out of their comfort zone, adaptable people will readily replace their tried-and-tested methods with even better working practices. In short, adaptability requires a certain level of humility, not in terms of always accepting to do things differently, but instead accepting that sometimes the master must go back to being the student!

Identifying learning potential – going one step further

Other intrapersonal soft skills can also, though to a lesser extent, work towards identifying learning potential. Self-awareness, for example, has an impact on learning motivation, since knowing what really interests you allows you to make choices that will get you excited, that are on a par with your aspirations. Resilience allows people to speedily move past any possible failures and to dive back in, to keep moving forward. And optimism, this unshakable sense of wonder coupled with a real zest for life, fosters a constructive assimilation of any new knowledge and an eagerness to put it into use.

Self-motivation, self-confidence, and adaptability therefore all enable you to reveal someone’s learning potential. Self-awareness, resilience, and optimism also have a role to play here. A precise evaluation of soft skills is possible using an analysis of people’s emotional intelligence, which positions them against a reference standard. Are their scores average, a little below, or do they differ greatly from the standard level? 
Whatever the results may be, the key thing to stress here is that soft skills can be developed. In other words, we can all work on our learning potential, and it is also completely possible to learn how to learn!

Helen Simard

Consultant Psychologist

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